This cheese sauce is one of the first things I remember my mom teaching me how to make in the kitchen. I loved how she didn’t follow a strict recipe and it was more about how the sauce looked than making sure we were using the right amount of ingredients. Definitely one of my first realizations that cooking was an art and was something flexible that took creativity.
Knowing how to make a basic cheese sauce can take you many places in the kitchen. It can be kept simple and served over steamed veggies, mixed into cooked pasta for incredible mac and cheese, spiced up, made with any cheese, and much more. In fact, the preparation for this sauce can be altered to make just about any thickened sauce you want. Swap chicken stock for the milk and you’ve got a basic chicken gravy. Omit the cheese and you got a basic white sauce or bechamel. Basically, the sky’s the limit here.
The first step of making this sauce is by making a roux which is a combination of equal parts fat and flour. This will be the thickening agent for the sauce. Butter is my go-to fat when making a roux but you’ll find that recipes for things like gumbo will use oil. All you have to do is combine the butter and flour in small sauce pan, give a stir until the butter is melted and let cook for 1 minute to let the raw flour taste cook out.
Once you’ve got the roux ready to go, it’s time to add some liquid. In general, milk with 2% fat content and higher will create a creamier sauce. That’s not to say that it will flop if you use something lower in fat, it just won’t be quite as creamy. When the cheese melts it likes to disperse and hang on to fat molecules. If there isn’t enough fat the cheese has nothing to hang on to and will be a bit more grainy in texture. Not a deal breaker though if you’re counting calories.
Use a whisk to combine the milk with the roux and continue to stir until the mixture comes up to a boil and is thickened. Let boil for one minute and remove from the heat.
Really any cheese can be used here. I had some colby-jack on hand which made a super mild, creamy sauce. Sharp cheddar is great for mac and cheese and topped on just about anything. Adding a bit of parmesan cheese to any type of cheese sauce you makes adds a little bit of sharpness and great flavor. Play with what you’ve got and the results can be awesome!
Dip, pour, smother, and enjoy!
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 2 Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
- 1 C milk
- 1/2-1 C cheese, your choice, grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- Melt butter in heavy saucepan on top of stove.
- Add flour, stir and let cook for 1 minute, being careful not to scorch.
- Slowly add milk, whisking to combine. Stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Cook and stir 1 minute longer.
- Remove pot from heat and stir in cheese until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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